Thursday, March 31, 2011

Batman Brings the Fun!

Like most comic fans who grew up in the 80's I got my mind blown by the massive upswing in quality led by Alan Moore and Frank Miller.  The darkly verite so called 'grim and gritty' style they exemplified has been used hard and put away wet since then, so its hard now to remember how fresh and revelatory it seemed at the time.

Moore went on to rue the way a style that came out of, as he put it in 2001, 'a bad mood I was in 15 years ago' became omnipresent and associated with the lamest of writing and cheapest of reader exploiting tactics.  Miller, after pushing the style into realms of absurdity has descended into self parody and almost desperate reiteration.

The style is still  dominant in the superhero genre and nowhere has it been more overt than with the character of Batman.  Frank Miller's one-two punch of The Dark Knight and Batman: Year One, respectively the last year and the first of Batman's superhero career, combined into such a strong vision of the character that the obsessed and grim avenger of the night became the only version imaginable for literally years.  Only now is the character beginning to emerge from its shadow.

Grant Morrison has been in charge of the character for the last few years and has been operating with the exhilarating approach of embracing all of Batman's history and persona from the comics, both the warrior of darkness and the cheerfully heroic comic book superhero he was portrayed as years ago.

The experiment has reached it's most recent artistic peak with issue 4 of Batman Incorporated.

This is, quite simply the best superhero comic I've read all year. A brilliant display of raw technical writing  ability with its meta-fictional conceits and narratives nesting within narratives, like exquisite Russian dolls brilliantly merging the Golden/Silver Age Batman, with his modern counterpart.  A lot of credit has to go to artist Chris Burnham who expertly and imaginatively matches the art style between the modern darkness and light hearted flashbacks.

This a Batman that embraces multiple, seemingly contradictory conceptions of the character seamlessly, a rare feat.

The other place where the light-hearted Batman is experiencing a resurgence is the animated cartoon Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  This is a Batman who is a serious professional superhero but not one with no life outside of combating evil.

In the latest episode he teams up with a giddily wonderful Silver Age Superman to fight crime in Metropolis for a day because it sounds like 'fun'.   This is the classic comic book Superman of the Curt Swan/Wayne Boring era, with tons of tributes to old comic covers from the 50's and 60's spoofed in a matter of minutes.  The voice acting is particularly fun with Sirena Irwin in particular doing a great Rosalind Russell/Hildy Johnson voice - perfect for Lois Lane - and almost as good as Jennifer Jason Leigh's version in The Hudsucker Proxy.

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